Early in their respective careers, Sting and Peter Gabriel seemed to come from parallel universes. Gabriel first gained fame fronting arty and oh-so-serious progressive rock band Genesis, while Sting led the bleach-blond, effervescent ska-pop trio the Police.
Their musical paths have definitely converged in the decades since, and when the two elder statesmen – Sting, 64, Gabriel, 66 – arrived at the Hollywood Bowl on Sunday on their Rock Paper Scissors tour, they were a perfectly meshed pairing. They sang each other’s lyrics, finished each other’s sentences and even engaged in a bit of light-hearted banter.
Gabriel proclaimed it “karaoke night at the Bowl” and the two riffed on their disparate hometowns, with Sting hailing from the port city of Wallsend, England, while Gabriel is from bucolic Surrey. “He grew up in the shadow of great ships and I grew up in the shadow of great cows,” Gabriel joked.
They also did some shtick on their differing fitness regimens, with Tantric yoga enthusiast Sting eventually displaying his impossibly ripped bod in a tight T-shirt while Gabriel kept his presumably doughier physique well-concealed by a baggy black hoodie.
The night began powerfully with the thundering drums of Gabriel’s “The Rhythm of the Heat” after which Sting arrived to perform “If I Ever Lose My Faith in You.” The latter tune, written in 1993, features the now-timely lyric “You could say I’d lost my belief in our politicians/ They all seemed like game show hosts to me,” though Sting played it straight, without winking to the audience about the line’s prescience.
Early highlights included Sting singing lines from Gabriel’s “Shock the Monkey” and Gabriel providing harmonies on Sting’s somber hymn “Fragile.” While Sting went to the Police well frequently for songs such as “Driven to Tears” and “Message in a Bottle,” Gabriel avoided Genesis – the only song from the band’s catalog to be performed was a truncated “Dancing With the Moonlit Knight,” with Sting on vocals.
The stellar 14-member band featured musicians long associated with the two artists, such as drummer Vinnie Colaiuta (Sting) and bassist Tony Levin (Gabriel). Though officially divided into a red band (Gabriel’s) and a blue band (Sting’s) the players were mixed and matched to fit a particular song without regard to affiliation.
In particular, backup singers Jennie Abrahamson (Gabriel) and Jo Lowry (Sting) frequently stepped into the limelight, with Abrahamson nailing the Kate Bush parts on “Games Without Frontiers” and “Don’t Give Up.”
The show really gained traction as a crowd-pleasing singalong in its later stages as the headliners delivered one familar song after another, starting with “Big Time’ and continuing with “Englishman in New York” (Sting’s nod to early gay rights activist Quentin Crisp), “Solsbury Hill,” “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” and “If You Love Somebody Set Them Free,” the last performed in a hilariously gruff, spoken-word style by Gabriel.
Sting brought down the house with an extended take on “Roxanne” that eventually segued into a loose, jazzy jam before morphing again into Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine.”
With the crowd still on its feet, Gabriel shared his memories of an idealistic woman he had met at a leadership conference two years ago. She had spent her career working for charities but was thinking she could have greater impact if she entered “the murky world of politics,” Gabriel said. The woman was Jo Cox, who was elected to Parliament as a member of the Labour Party last year and then stabbed and shot in a fatal attack last month while meeting with constituents during the contentious run-up to the U.K.’s vote on whether to leave the European Union.
“She was effectively assassinated by some racist,” Gabriel said before performing “Love Can Heal” in her memory. It was a heartfelt tribute but also a definite buzzkill after the previous run of up-beat songs. Perhaps it should be slotted earlier in the proceedings.
The show regained its momentum by the time of the main-set closing “In Your Eyes,” which was expanded into a full-blown tent-revival spiritual. After the obligatory exit from the stage, the performers returned for an encore of the biggest hit by each artist – the Police’s “Every Breath You Take” and Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer,” which sent everyone home satisfied.
(c) OC Register by Jeffrey Miller
Check out more reviews from the first Hollywood Bowl show of the tour at http://www.sting.com/tour/hollywoodbowl#1 where you can also leave your thoughts about the show, post your photos etc. Also remember to check and use the hashtag #RockPaperScissors on Twitter!